Causal Factors in American Economic Growth in the Nineteenth by Peter Temin

By Peter Temin

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One can visualise two hypothetical worlds. In one of them the railroads were built and then abandoned. In the other, railroads were never introduced at all. Authors who calculate social savings appear to be discussing the first of these worlds, but they often talk as if they are 41 discussing the second. Yet it is highly probable that the two hypothetical worlds are different, and very hard to say in which one the national product was higher [David, 1969]. ' to the proceedings [McClelland, 1972].

And, finally, what was the effect of slavery on the economic development of the South and the United States as a whole? The issue of 'viability' was raised in its modem form by Conrad and Meyer [1958] in an article that must be considered the pioneer article of the New Economic History. Conrad and Meyer asked if slavery would have 'toppled of its own weight' in the absence of the Civil War. e. by answering the second question listed above. But it is clear that the profitability and viability of slavery are separate and that the relat-ionship between them must be elucidated before inferences can be made about one from evidence on the other.

The last point is only sometimes true, and the literature needs to be handled with care. 37 5 Railroads ONE innovation above all has been singled out as having a critical role in American economic development, and a considerable literature has grown up about it. I refer of course to the railroad. Many historians have contented themselves with descriptions and analyses of the railroads themselves and left the question of their impact on the rest of the economy relatively open. The past decade, however, has seen a change in this approach, focusing on the use of the concept of 'social savings' .

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